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Persona 3 Reload proves that it’s always worth going back to school – preview

Atlus has made all the right notes from Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal, and the result is an RPG that’s scoring full marks.

Atlus has always been the king of reusing assets – nearly the entire PS2 library of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games used a lot of the same models for their demons and enemies. The same was true on the 3DS, leading Atlus to release a ‘B-side’ for Shin Megami Tensei 4, just a few years after the mainline title launched. I really like the spirit of this; making the most out of what you have, and spending your resources wisely. And it’s reassuring to see that trend is still alive and well in Persona 3 Reload.

Akihiko in Persona 3 is about to land a punch on you, the viewer.
The gloves are... on. | Image credit: Sega

All the lessons learned in Persona 5 Royal have been applied to (in my opinion) the best game in the series. With a cast of characters that are more fully-realised than those in the later games – misfits even within their own ragtag social group, as flawed as they are brilliant – Persona 3 has always been more in line with the doomed, pessimistic worldview of its parent Shin Megami Tensei series, rather than the more bubblegum-nihilism of the later Persona games.

So, 3 Reload manages to summon this wonderfully dark, borderline-hopeless vibe, and dress it up with all the bells and whistles that have come since. During my time playing the game, I thought ‘this is what Persona 3 has always looked like’, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Our demo took us across the ghost train en route to the Priestess ‘Full Moon’ boss, and en route, you get close-ups of the coffins harbouring the disillusioned salarymen supposedly noping out of the real world on their way home from work and sinking into the sweet oblivion of Tartarus.

That my brain even conjures that concept as I solve a series of average-difficulty fights en route to the boss… you can see some of the Persona 3 magic is back, and in more detail than ever. My first experience with this game was squinting over P3P on my Vita – so there’s a lot of detail and intrigue I’ve missed out on, simply because I’ve been playing a hamstrung version of the game. Now, with these lush new visuals, and a stylish UI overhaul that’s as good as any other game in the modern series, you are privileged to see a grittier view of this world: really submerge your head in the highschool counterculture of Iwatodai in 2009.

Koromaru is back, and still best boy.

As with all Persona games, the real fun (and the near-constant little bumps of serotonin you get to sniff) come in the form of combat puzzles that go exactly your way. Pop two enemies down with your fire magic, pass the baton to your ice-powered mage, and see the whole enemy line come tumbling down. Then you unleash your all-out attack, finishing all four feckless little demons off in one fell swoop (preserving your precious SP in the meantime). It’s RPG catnip, and it’s the sort of loop that’ll make even the most greenhorn Persona convert feel good about themselves.

The flow of the battles feels very similar to the base game – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but the option to control each cast member is there from the off. There’s no auto-AI bullshit here, and that means more opportunities for granular control, more space for you to prove your tactical genius as you wipe the floor with the bosses of the Major Arcana. There are less utilities to hand than in Persona 5 (or even 4!) so the puzzle-combat elements of the bosses more often come down to buffs, debuffs, and elemental magic. There are few gimmicks. The experience is more pure, more unforgiving – more ‘classic RPG’. But that old-school soul with this new-school coat of paint? It’s a match made in heaven.

The Persona 3 protagonist and Junpei Iori chat in the middle of a school lesson.
Junpei remains unenlightened. | Image credit: Sega

Graphically, it’s a little lo-fi compared to Persona 5 Royal and all its bells and whistles, but that’s sort-of the point of Persona 3. The is a remaster in the best sense; it’s kept all the original feeling that the 2006 release had, whilst injecting and refining the saggier and slacker parts of the project to make it truly look the part in 2023 (well, 2024 by the time it releases).

Persona 3 has always been one of the best RPGs of the 00s, and now it has the chance to prove itself for a whole new audience… just don’t tell them about all the problematic stuff. We’ll deal with that when we see that is some of the baggage the remake has managed to leave behind.


Persona 3 is due out early next year on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

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